http://t.co/7cw05AA via @guardian
It is hard to imagine a more appalling crime than the trafficking of children for slave labour and sexual exploitation. Any society that plays host to such a trade stands disgraced.
There are no accurate figures for the number of children smuggled into the UK. One is too many. But an indication of the scale of the problem is the fact, reported in today's Observer, that hundreds of children, rescued from abuse, regularly vanish from care homes. Most remain unaccounted for. Children's charities believe many of them will have fallen back into the hands of violent trafficking gangs.
Those numbers represent a small fraction of the total. One police operation observed 1,800 unaccompanied children arriving at Heathrow in just three months. Half were under 11. Many of those journeys will have been arranged by gangs.
When children do turn to the authorities for help, they are often treated as criminals, not victims. Even when they are accommodated in care, trafficked children, with minimal command of English, traumatised and bewildered, have no help navigating the labyrinth of asylum law.
One remedy would be the appointment of formal guardians, empowered by law with parental responsibility for rescued children. Charities are keen to take on that role and the idea was supported in a 750,000 signature petition presented to Downing St last month. But immigration minister Damian Green rejects the proposal on the grounds that it would "bring no extra benefit to the child". Pilot projects that have used the guardian model clearly indicate otherwise.
It is hard to believe that the government would fail to act if hundreds of British children were regularly vanishing into a criminal underworld of violent abuse. Desperate parents would demand action. Trafficked foreign children have no such voice, which is precisely why they need guardians. Mr Green apparently prefers that they suffer in silence.